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Medical experts: NYC's attack against COVID-19 can become model

A health care worker directs a man who

A health care worker directs a man who was just vaccinated to an observation area at NYC mobile vaccine clinic in Midtown Manhattan on Monday. Mayor Bill de Blasio says all New York City employers will have to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for their workers by Dec. 27. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

Once a global epicenter of the pandemic, New York City’s plan of attack against COVID-19 is showing strong results and could serve as a model for Long Island and elsewhere, medical experts said Tuesday.

Some called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to implement the same plan statewide, though she has given no indication she plans to do so.

The New York City approach "is a smart move, it’s an important move, and it’s the best way to avoid returning to shutdowns of businesses and public events that we are seeing in other countries," said Dr. Jean Marie Osborne, associate professor of health policy at Molloy College in Rockville Centre.

"I think more counties and more areas of New York should follow suit in what the city is doing right now," she said.

The city requires proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, gyms, sports venues, Broadway plays, museums, concert venues, movie theaters, pools and other businesses.

It also requires all city employees to be vaccinated and, in a move announced Monday by Mayor Bill de Blasio, will extend that to the private sector.

Long Island and the rest of the state do not follow the same policies, instead allowing people to enter restaurants, gyms or concert halls whether they are vaccinated or not, and with no need to mask.

New York City now has the lowest COVID-19 positivity level in the state — 2% — compared with about 6% on Long Island and 11% in some upstate regions.

"That proves what the city is doing right now is working," Osborne said.

The positivity level is the percentage of people who test positive for the virus — meaning they are infected — out of the total that get tested that day.

Long Island on some days is also producing almost as many daily cases of COVID-19 as New York City, even though the city has triple the population.

"If you look at this from the perspective of is this the way to shorten the pandemic and get out of it and keep people from getting sick, the answer is yes," said Dr. David Battinelli, vice president and chief medical officer at New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health.

Sean Clouston, an associate professor of public health at Stony Brook University, agreed.

"I think it’s a good idea. I think it’s good that NYC is leading," he said. "Everybody sort of wants to see their way out of this pandemic … and people want leadership. The reality is we just can’t act as though this doesn’t exist and it will go away."

Not everyone is a fan of de Blasio’s approach, which the mayor has boasted could serve as a national model.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican who is running for governor — a post de Blasio also says he may seek — blasted the mayor after Monday’s announcement.

"When you dangerously combine a far-left, lame-duck politician, who is anti-business, one-dimensional, unaccountable, not bright and has a perpetual ‘I-always-know-best’ attitude, you get Bill de Blasio, the worst mayor in America," Zeldin said.

Hochul on Monday said she is mainly leaving it up to local governments to decide how to deal with COVID-19, even as indicators soar throughout much of the state.

"I believe that, where necessary, there should be a statewide approach, but when not necessary, or we're waiting for more data, we can have a more surgical approach to dealing with the pandemic," she said.

"I support the local government leaders to execute the policies, to fight COVID as they believe will be most helpful to deal with this pandemic within their own jurisdictions," she added.

Hochul also suggested polices must be "enforceable" and that there would be resistance to mandates. "I know the state better than anyone, and I know people’s appetites for more restrictions," she said.

Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat who is running against Hochul for the party’s nomination for governor, praised the city's existing policy and called on Hochul to come up with a plan for the state.

"The governor should provide the leadership to create a statewide, comprehensive, science-based plan," he said. "The current piecemeal approach and lack of coordination between state and local officials only creates confusion and misunderstanding, and harms the economy."

Though de Blasio should have coordinated his latest move Monday with his successor, Mayor-elect Eric Adams, Suozzi said, "I applaud the city with the results that they are having regarding infection right now. It’s common sense that their infection rates are low compared to other places. And that’s good. It’s working."

In a statement Tuesday night, Hochul's office defended her performance on COVID-19.

"Since day one, Governor Hochul has effectively utilized every power at her disposal to combat COVID-19, including enforcing a nation-leading health care worker mandate, keeping students safe and schools open, creating statewide vaccine pop-up sites, requiring nursing homes to provide booster shots to all residents, deploying the National Guard to facilities in need of additional staffing, declaring a State of Emergency to protect hospital capacity in targeted areas, and staying in constant communication with local partners to provide support on the ground," the statement said.

Some experts believe Hochul should implement the city's plan statewide.

"It sort of does beg the question," Clouston said. "We know that these things work and we know that they make everybody safer. Why aren’t we doing them?"

Battinelli said New York City-style policies would "cause a lot of disruption, blowback, politics, and everything else, but that’s a different question" from public health concerns.

"But what we can do, the science tells us, this is the way to lessen the length of it and keep the people as safe as possible," he said.

Osborne noted that Hochul earlier this year ordered masks to be worn in schools, even though some parents, teachers and administrators were angry about it.

But "the students are doing well," Osborne said. "The schools have not needed to shut down."

In the latest test results, released Tuesday, Long Island again came close to producing the same number of new COVID-19 cases as New York City. Suffolk tallied 932 cases in test results from Monday, and Nassau had 759, for a total of 1,691. New York City registered 2,159 cases.

Long Island’s seven-day average for positivity was 5.98%, while the average was 2.35% in New York City and 4.87% statewide.

A total of 52 people statewide died of causes linked to COVID-19 on Monday, including two in Suffolk and one in Nassau.

Meanwhile, the Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday accepted nearly $7 million in grant funding to help boost the health department’s COVID-19 public health response.

The health department will hire 35 public health fellows to expand its workforce for one year through the $6,959,172 grant, awarded by Health Research Inc., a nonprofit based in Menands, according to Jennifer Culp, a health department official, and a legislative resolution.

The county will recruit and deploy New York Public Health Corps fellows to investigate COVID-19 clusters, trace cases, staff vaccine pods and test wastewater for coronavirus cases, Culp said.

Fellows will help conduct epidemiological "research into how we have fared in this pandemic," including examining vaccination rates by geography, Culp said. There is currently no staff epidemiologist, she said.

Other fellows may work in public health areas affected by COVID-19: chest diseases, sexually transmitted illnesses and opioid addiction.

Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) called the lack of a staff epidemiologist "concerning."

"That’s a position our health department should have full time and something we should make sure continues," Hahn said.

With Rachelle Blidner

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What to know

New York City’s plan of attack against COVID-19 is showing strong results and could serve as a model, medical experts said.

Some have called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to implement the same plan statewide. She hasn’t committed to that.

New York City’s positivity level is 2% compared to 6% on Long Island, up to 11% in some upstate areas.

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